The last week has seen a deterioation of relations in East Asia as a wave of ”popular” protests against Japan has swept over China.
The overt reason is that new Japanese schoolbooks tend to gloss over war crimes committed by Japanese forces in China during the 1930’s. It’s only some books, used in some schools, but is nevertheless by China seen as a step back from the Japanese side.
The real reasons are probably more complicated. It is of course inconceivable that major street demonstrations or massive Internet campaigns can be organized in China without some sort of appropval – at the least – by the authorities.
It’s in all probability an attempt to motivate stopping Japan from getting a permanent set at the UN Security Council as a result of the reforms now being discussed.
But it’s a high-stake game. Playing the nationalist game is always possible, but it carries consequences. Japanese investments remain very important for the Chinese economy -providing jobs that are desperately needed.
More generally, it once again demonstrates that history count. Some of the emotions seen on the streets of China are no doubt genuine – but they have been let loose and tolerated by the authorities.
But the problem is that of China can mobilize nationalist sentiments, others in the region can do the same, including a further development in Japan.
This should be in no ones interest. The region need to move further together – not dramatically apart.